The Watts riots where the first major black riot of the 60's. Sparked by rumor of police brutality, it opened the flood gates to decades of anger and longings for freedom. While most in the establishment saw Watts as the "dregs of society gone out of control", the participants and politically astute saw it as a political protest and tactical guerilla warfare.
What we don’t remember, what many of us never really considered, was that this was a mass political action that had no leaders, no apologists, no internal critics. The Watts riot was a spontaneous act of a people who had been oppressed, emasculated and impoverished for too long.The result was too many dead and arrested, but also worldwide publicity to the problems of blacks in inner-cities, local empowerment and politicalization, and immediate local government action to address grievances.
The riot was a rebellion, a naturally formed revolution, an unconscious expression of a people who had lived entire lives, many generations, in a state of enforced unconsciousness. It was about people who were poor and undereducated, people who had no motherland or mother tongue or even a history as far as most of them knew. (From "What We Forgot About Watts" below)
Please read more:
What We Forgot About Watts
Here is a synopsis of the goings on.
White French guys chime in
The Watts Rebellion at 40
Also go see the documentary Crips and Bloods: Made in America. It has some great first hand accounts of the riot and commentary on its connections to modern day L.A.